Sunday, 15 February 2015


What does it mean to be a feminist in 2015? 

It feels to me as if feminism now has a more practical expression than the feminism of my university years, which was driven by a radical, separatist ideology, which neither felt terribly sisterly, nor very helpful, although I remember being hugely engaged in the theory. Andrea Dworkin was our idol, fierce, polemical, radical and of enormous integrity, she was also much misunderstood and much maligned. 
I think it has taken me more than twenty years to understand the truth of what she was saying. But then, I've never been much cop when it came to ideology. I like people better than principles.

Anyway, twenty five years later, I am more optimistic about active, practical feminism: in the intervening years I've quietly despaired when female power was repackaged and sold back to women as raunch culture, or when (very enjoyable) shows like Sex and The City were perceived to be 'sisterly' and 'empowering' yet were still predicated on a relationship with a man - Cinderella could only find validation in society if she found her prince.

Yet now, quite wonderfully, social media has given women a voice: it's identified a collective that previously existed only in pockets. We no longer feel alone. Social Media has helped to give feminism scale. Popular writers like Caitlin Moran have taken feminism out of the margins and put it centre stage. Exceptional businesswomen like Helena Morrissey use their power to make other women powerful too - her Thirty Percent Club has had a productive impact on the composition of boards in the UK's top companies, and if women's representation at a very senior level is still lamentably small, I'm still encouraged by the step-change Morrissey has driven at board level. In the six years since I began Mrs Trefusis, I've discovered a marvellous, supportive, female world of blogs and bloggers and twitterers who were (are) sisterly, and generous, and supportive. And offline, magazines like ELLE reclaim 'the F word' for a new generation and Harper's Bazaar talks openly about 'The Sisterhood'. 

It feels new. Positive. A reason to hope. I like it. 

Of course, these are small green shoots rather than evidence of dramatic cultural change. Social media may have given women a platform, but it also gives a voice to trolls and I am angered and horrified by the extraordinary abuse my sisters face when they poke their head above the parapet. It's forty-five years since Germaine Greer wrote 'women have very little idea of how much men hate them' in The Female Eunuch, and I don't think I ever believed her, until now, until one sees the rage and hate unleashed by something as anodyne as suggesting there might be a famous woman on a bank note.

It's also forty five years since the Equal Pay Act, but women still only earn 85p for every pound a man earns. Women may have a voice, but we have yet to succeed in demanding that men listen when we say equal work means equal pay.  

But still, I am not despondent: the sisterhood exists, & there seems to be a new mood. Although I am quite the Pollyanna, I believe that the pace of change is gathering and one day we will live in a society where women have equal rights with men, where the playing field is level, where the narrative isn't driven solely by the needs of 49% of the population.

Perhaps that's why it's important to keep reading the sacred texts of feminism - not, perhaps, Dworkin or even Greer, but De Beauvoir and Wollstonecraft and Wolf. 

We are moving forwards, but we shouldn't forget that we are still fighting. 

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I too loved learning about it at university and have so enjoyed watching the subject become more mainstream. But a good reminder to go back and enjoy those original tomes.